PARENTS in Helensburgh will be reluctant to send their children back to school in August if their safety cannot be guaranteed.

That’s the warning issued this week by the chair of Hermitage Academy’s parent council, as the First Minister outlined plans for pupils to return to the classroom on a phased basis on August 11.

Nicola Sturgeon gave details at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday of a path out of lockdown for Scotland, more than two months after schools across the UK were closed in a bid to control the spread of Covid-19.

Donna Hicks, who chairs the Academy’s parent council, warned that a number of factors will need to be taken into account ahead of any return to school.

Speaking prior to Ms Sturgeon's announcement on Thursday, Mrs Hicks said: “The parent council looks forward to seeing the detail from the Scottish Government and Argyll and Bute Council regarding what a return to school might look like.“The safety and well-being of our children is the priority for all parents and carers.

“It is recognised that it is unlikely that all pupils will return at the same time, and the groups of pupils we are most concerned about would be those transitioning from primary schools to Hermitage Academy and senior pupils studying for qualifications.

READ MORE: Scotland's schools set to return on August 11 on 'part-time' basis with phased re-opening

“However, the situation is not as clear cut as that, and other pupils are vulnerable for a host of different reasons.

“Many things need to be taken into account as more parents require to return to work.

“What is clear at this stage is that until parents feel that adequate measures are in place and that the situation is as safe for everyone as it possibly can be, there will be some reluctance for pupils to return.”

Mrs Hicks also hailed the work being done by the school’s teaching staff since the doors were closed on March 20, and said the parent council had “regularly and meaningfully engaged” with head teacher Robert Williamson.

“Even in these very strange times, and this unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in, the Parent Council has continued to regularly and meaningfully engage with Mr Williamson, the head teacher.

She added: “Overnight we have had to become ‘Zoom’ experts and it has been vital to keep communication open.

READ MORE: 'Safety will be priority' as Argyll and Bute draws up plans for August school return

"In the early stages we were able to get an outline of how the school would continue to deliver teaching and learning, although not surprisingly, this has been an evolving situation.

She added: “We are extremely grateful to the teaching staff who have had to adapt overnight to a new way of working.

"Through our Parent Council Facebook page, we’ve been able to feedback to the parent forum and take on their concerns.

“The cancellation of the Scottish Qualifications Authority examinations this year, although unavoidable, has caused significant anxiety for pupils and parents/carers alike.”

“Our Parent Council and parent forum has shown great community spirit with offers of help aplenty.

"We have a small team of volunteers assisting in packing food parcels for vulnerable people in our community.

READ MORE: 'Don't stress over home schooling', Helensburgh's parents told

"We are doing this in partnership with school staff.”

Claire Walker, chair of Hermitage Primary School parent council, also said that decisions had to be taken for the right reasons and pledged support to the school where needed.

She said: “This really is a challenging situation we all find ourselves in at the minute.

“It certainly has been a testing time for pupils, parents and staff alike.

“With regards to as and when pupils will return to education a decision is outwith our control and I don’t feel it beneficial to second guess the what ifs.

“Our role as a parent council is to support the school in enabling the best possible education for our children whilst also ensuring their mental and physical health and wellbeing.

READ MORE: Life in lockdown 'is hitting Helensburgh's young people hard', says area's MSYP

“It is important that any decisions made are for the right reasons and we will support the staff at Hermitage Primary in any way we can.

“The past few weeks have been a very interesting time for all of us but the school have done a fantastic job in facilitating the changes that have been necessary to maintain learning for the children.”

Douglas Hendry, the council’s executive director with responsibility for education, told a meeting of the authority’s business continuity committee on Thursday, May 14 that the authority was working on the basis of an August return.

He said: “It is pretty clear that there will not be a return to pre-lockdown scenarios, so we are looking at things in relation to accommodation and on what basis schools would re-open.

“From discussion with a member of staff in education, the phrase that they used was that they would be looking at a blended approach.

“We are working on all those things and will have a range of papers coming forward to keep members up to speed.”

READ MORE: Council vows Hermitage Academy pupils 'will get the right results' after exams are cancelled

The council’s policy lead for education, Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, said: “We want to be prepared for welcoming our young people back as soon as we can do that safely.

“When and how that happens will depend very much on national guidance.

“We know that our young people and families are missing their schools in lots of ways.

“We are therefore looking already at different scenarios that might apply for schools re-opening, so that we are prepared.

“Responding to Covid-19 is a fairly fast-moving and changing situation, so August is too far away just now to predict how education services will work then.

“What’s certain is that the safety of our pupils, teachers and school staff will be the priority.”

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